Made for the Shade


Acanthus ‘Bear’s Breech’

As the heat of summer approaches I take great pleasure in the cool sanctuary of my shade garden. Here lush foliage makes a verdant backdrop to jewel-like flowers. The emphasis on fabulous foliage keeps this garden looking lovely through every season. Evergreen plants with bold foliage like Japanese Aralia (Fatsia), Bear’s Breech (Acanthus),  with its polished oak-shaped leaves and Hellebores contrast with the arching fronds of ferns and the many-colored Heucheras. Shrubs like Pieris in green or variegated forms bear hanging lily-of-the-valley-like bells followed by colorful new leaves. Rhododendrons and azaleas come in a rainbow of flower colors and offeryear-round structure. Fragrant Daphnes and sweet box (Sarcococca) fill the garden with delightful scents in spring while star jasmine and gardenias perfume the area all summer. Camellias add height and glorious flowers in spring or winter. Azara forms a small evergreen tree with green or white edged airy foliage

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

and fragrant tiny yellow flowers.

Many shade loving perennials add to the tapestry of plants. Hostas bear large, stunning foliage in blue, gold, green and variegated forms. Brunneras and pulmonarias offer slug-resistant foliage often sporting silvery patterns and blue flowers in spring. Fuchsias are humming bird magnets, bearing fairy-like hanging flowers all summer in reds, purples, pinks, orange and white variations. It is fascinating to watch the hummingbird’s acrobatic flights as they feast and defend their territories.


mophead hydrangea


lacecap hydrangea

For show-stopping summer blooms it’s hard to beat the amazing array of Hydrangeas. These stunning shrubs offer masses of flowers from late spring until frost on plants as small as 2-3’ up to large 6-8’  arching beauties. Most of us are familiar with the mophead hydrangeas with their round flower clusters in white, pink or blue. Another option is the lacecap, which carries flat-topped lacey blooms in the same color ranges. The panicle hydrangeas sport large cone-shaped flowers in green, white and pink shades. A popular new introduction called ‘Strawberry Sundae’ is a delicious looking confection of white flower panicles that flushe with rich pink as each flower matures on a 4-5’ shrub. The panicle hydrangeas will grow in sun or shade. Also sun tolerant is the oakleaf hydrangea, a beauty with white cone-shaped blooms aging pink above oak shaped leaves that turn rich red in fall.

The shade garden is a cool, inviting place to sit a enjoy the glory of summer.

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6 Responses to Made for the Shade

  1. Bob Chilton says:

    Great arirticle, but I wish someone would give us hints on how to garden under fir trees, and how close planting should be done. No one seems to know definitively what would be successful under them.

  2. Sue Wilbur says:

    Can you suggest a Rhody or Azalea that prefers shade and will still produce blooms and not get leggy?

    • There are several Rhodies and Azaleas that stay compact and are not leggy in shade but will have less flowers if they don’t get at least 3 hours a day of sun. Choices in kid Rhododendrons ‘Jens Jorgen Sorenson’, ‘Winsome’, ‘Yaku Princess’, and Yaku Sunrise’, and Azaleas ‘Gumpo Fancy’ and ‘Pearl Bradford’. There are more Azaleas that will slightly loosen up in shade like ‘Hino Crimson’ and the Girard series: Fuchsia, Hotshot, Rose and Purple. Also, you might consider plants like Sarcococca and Skimmia that stay compact and flower in spring. Karen

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